Book Cover

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Certain Vacancy--A Hidden Grief

We all live for days worth remembering. I remember Easter Sunday 2006 thanks to this e-mail. --Allen B. Goodwin

Dear Mr. Goodwin,
My name is Joy Fitchett I live in Asheville , N.C. I am the only child of a victim of the Winecoff Fire, Harry Sorrells. It was through your book that I was able to learn anything about my father's death. My mother refused to discuss it with me . I was two years old when my father died .
Thank you for writing the book and helping me to face my own loss and to hopefully improve fire safety for all. I have visited the site of the hotel, it was a very sad experience for me.
I am not sure how I feel about it being revised into something else. However, I suppose that isn't for me to say.
Again, thank you. Joy Fitchett

Dear Joy,
Thank you for your e-mail. It is with special care that I approach replying to it. I was just with my father today, Easter Sunday. He is eighty nine years old and in good health for his age. He is, however, lonesome for the first time in his life as we lost my mother last December.
Having two parents live full and happy lives has been a blessing to me. Your e-mail reminds me to be thankful.
My father has made many sacrifices for my brother and I and has given us much more than we repay...to him. We now have children of our own.
Your father gave you a special gift that you can be proud of, your lovely name, Joy.
He gave more than that to mankind. The Winecoff fire's lasting legacy is in the improved safety features that everyone relies on in today's high rise buildings. That is something to be proud of.
My co-author and I are pleased that finally something useful may become of the cold and vacant building you visited at 176 Peachtree St. here in Atlanta. If it were torn down, the gift from Harry Sorrells and the others who perished there might sooner be forgotten.
We hope our book has been helpful to you in the long run and we are grateful for your thanks.
I will share your letter to me with my father. He already knows your sorrow. He was there when your father died. He is an eye witness to the Winecoff fire.
Best wishes and be safe, Allen B. Goodwin

Mr. Goodwin,
Thank you.

I never forgot Joy's e-mail and a year later received this reply to our announcement about the WTBS STORYline feature story broadcast in April 2007.

Dear Allen,
As always you are such a good friend to us. I really don't know what we would do without your vigilance to keep us up to speed about these things. You have been such a good friend and guiding spirit for me. You have no idea how much your work has helped me to work through my loss of my Dad.
I don't know if I shared with you that I was able to visit the Winecoff when it was being taken down. For some reason I became very upset and the demo workers were very kind and asked my husband what was wrong he explained. They of course had no idea of the history of the building and felt terrible.
They asked if they could do anything for me and I said I would like to have some of the bricks so they were kind enough to go down and get some from the foundation. Some of them have firemarks on them.
I can't explain it but somehow they bring me a measure of comfort or closeness to my Dad. The only thing I have that belonged to him is his drivers license. Again , thank you for all that you do for us . I hope that this finds you and your Dad well .
Warmest thoughts,

Dear Joy,
Thank you for your kind thoughts.
My dad will be ninety in June and a big celebration is planned.

I have thought often of our brief exchange of e-mails. I have also often thought of asking you if I might post them on the Winecoff Readers' Mail section of winecoff.org .

I feel other readers might draw some strength from your words, particularly Dr. Robert Cox. At age three, he lost both his parents in the Winecoff fire. His father's final act in life saved Robert's life. His story begins on page 29 of our book and resumes on page 41. Dr. Cox is now a valued friend of ours.

Also, I think the re-developers of the hotel might benefit from reading your words. So far they have shown remarkable sensitivity toward those directly affected by the fire and I would like to see that continue.

Lastly, I would like my own sons to read them someday.
That gives me three reasons to ask for your permission to post our past e-mails. So, here goes. May I post them?

Your Friend,

Dear Allen,
You are as always so kind and sensitive to the needs of others. I continue to be in your debt for this.
Each day I peel away a small bit of hidden grief as I refer to something in your book or realize someone lost both parents.
Please feel free to share any of our correspondence with anyone you feel would benefit. Your kindness continues to enrich my life.
Warmest regards,

Dear Joy,
Thank you.

Sam and I continue to be surprised and humbled by the impact our book has had. It has brought us many days worth remembering. --Allen